TROUBLEMAKER Linda Howard
A Perfect 10
Harper Collins
ISBN-13:  978-0-06-241897-5
May 2016
Romantic Suspense

Washington, DC and Virginia  -  Present Day

Morgan Yancy is a member of one of those type of groups, government run but no one ever knows of the missions they take on.  He's just gotten back in town after a job, and after a good night's sleep can't wait to go fishing in his boat and have some down time on the Potomac.  His fellow team member, Kodak, appears to have found companionship of the female variety so Morgan decides to go alone.  You can tell he is an excellent operative, he watches all the cars around him, looks to see if there's anything off in the marine parking lot or on the other boats, and is generally ready for action all the time.  He says hello to the marina owner and starts out to the fishing area when he sees a cabin cruiser and recognizes the distinctive silver white hair of Congresswoman Joan Kingsley and her lawyer husband.  He says hello and goes on to spend a great day fishing, but food calls out to him and he goes grocery shopping; he needs his coffee the next day.  Coming to his condo he walks by some bushes and is shot in the chest, but he manages to shoot his attacker before he loses consciousness.

Isabeau Maran is Chief of Police in Hamrickville, West Virginia.  She's not a police officer, she just handles all the paperwork they produce, and her deputies do the real police work.  Along with her beloved golden retriever, Tricks, Isabeau is content with her life.  The house flipping bug hit her several years ago, and she was left with a large house and a mountain of bills after using her own money to fix it up for the supposed buyer.  Little by little she's digging her way out of debt, until her ex step-brother Axel MacNamara offers her one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to take care of the sick man who just drove up to her house.  By this time Morgan had open heart surgery, coded twice during the surgery, and then got pneumonia.  They found out the man who shot Morgan was Russian mafia, but who and why he was paid to kill Morgan they don't know.  Morgan needs to recuperate and try and figure out what happened that day and who is behind the shooting.

Morgan and Isabeau have a lot going on as he heals at her house.  Physically he is fragile at first, and completely doesn't understand Isabeau's connection to Tricks.  Isabeau then comes between a woman and her husband, Kyle Gooding, and he is taken down by her in front of everyone.  What he does next will seal his fate with Morgan forever.  Isabeau might not be a police officer, but it is only through her questions that Morgan can again go over what happened that fateful day his life was almost ended and pull all the pieces together.

Ah, Linda Howard.  Every book of hers is so exquisitely drawn and slowly but surely drags you into the story.  Having read her for over 20 years, she is one of the best craftsmen around in writing stories that are not copies of anyone else's, and I believe sets the bar for suspense that leaves you breathless.  Her female characters are always strong like Isabeau, dependent mostly on herself, and yet her love for Tricks, her dog, is gut deep.  Morgan is typical black ops, strong, independent, and ready at a moment's notice to protect anyone.  Physical weakness is unknown to him and disgusts him more and more every day; getting back to peak condition and trying to remember something about that day goes over and over in his mind all the time.  If you love strong men who can back it up, Morgan's interaction with Kyle Gooding after a very stupid action will give you goosebumps.

Secondary characters are Axel, Isabeau's hated ex-stepbrother, even if it was for only eight months.  But it is Tricks, the dog, that steals every scene, or, is she really a dog?  And Kyle Gooding made the mistake of his life tangling with Isabeau, and Morgan has made it his life's duty to make sure Kyle never crosses paths with Isabeau again.

TROUBLEMAKER will bring out all the excitement, terror and tears as you read every page.  I am particularly stingy with Perfect 10s, but this is a book I will surely reread, and the richness and quality of the writing especially appeal to me.  Linda Howard is a master storyteller and is at her peak with TROUBLEMAKER.  You will love the conflict, supremely intelligent dog, and an insane attraction between two self-sufficient people who soon realize the other is vital to their lives.  There is no way to read TROUBLEMAKER and not be drawn into Morgan and Isabeau's story.

Carolyn Crisher